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A Guide to Spanish Colonial-Style Houses

May 17, 2022

Spanish Colonial-style houses have a rich history in the United States, and one look at these eye-catching homes reveals why. Their architectural style is unique and centers around functionality instead of aesthetics. As time has gone on, many homebuilders have adopted the style due to its good looks, and it has transcended the original needs to become something more. Use this quick guide to Spanish Colonial-style houses to discover what makes them so incredible.

The History of Spanish Colonial Style

The best way to understand modern Spanish Colonial-style homes is to learn where they came from. Though these homes have evolved throughout the years, their core elements, like clay-tile roofing and stucco walls, continue to exist. These homes and styles emerged in the 16th century as Spain colonized various parts of the Americas, notably the Southwestern and Central American regions.

These homes appeared in modern-day Florida, California, Arizona, Texas, and Nevada, areas that had climates similar to Spain. Colonists used readily available resources to build their homes, such as adobe, stucco, and clay. Many of these materials came from the surrounding environments, so the houses looked like part of the natural landscape.

Even when this colonial period ended, the style remained, and there would be a significant Spanish Colonial Revival around the 1900s. In this period, homebuilders would continue this iconic style even though it was no longer a necessity; instead, it was purely out of love for the aesthetic.

While the old architecture carried on, some small refinements and advancements would modernize the homes. Clay and stucco still have plenty of utility, but designers would still integrate some modern conveniences. Additionally, these homes would pop up in not as dry and hot regions of the world. Designers then updated the houses to stand up to the rain and colder temperatures.

Stucco Walls

One of the most notable components of the Spanish Colonial style is the stucco walls. Stucco played a role in the colonial period as it could retain the coolness from the night and make a sweltering day more tolerable. Later, when night fell again, the stucco material would release the warmth it had absorbed from the sun.

Today, stucco is a cement-based plaster that comes from cement, sand, and lime, and the architects lay it over the different walls and surfaces of the building. It is a fantastic and durable material, and maintenance is quite easy.


Traditional Spanish Colonial-style homes had relatively few windows, and those they did have were small. Architects made this choice because these homes were in hot and dry areas. The windows had to be big enough to let in a cool breeze, but they couldn’t let in too much light as direct sunlight would heat the home. Traditional Spanish Colonial-style homes additionally did not have glass panes. Instead, they used iron bars.

In today’s homes, these issues are less critical. Modern homes come with central air-conditioning systems, so windows can be big and allow plenty of natural light to enter. Glass is also a common feature now, though many homeowners choose to keep the iron bars as part of this historic style.


Many Spanish Colonial-style homes also come with courtyards, and while they are beautiful, they originally had a purpose beyond looking fantastic. These courtyards were traditionally the center of the home. Homeowners could cook food in the courtyard during warmer seasons, so the heat did not transfer to the home’s interior. Then, later in the winter, people could cook food indoors, and the heat from the oven would warm up the house.

As homes today come with heating and cooling elements already installed, courtyards no longer function as a means for temperature control. That said, they are still a significant part of any Spanish Colonial home. They are a wonderful way to enjoy the weather, and they provide a lot of space to entertain guests. Some modern homes may have these sorts of courtyards on the home’s exterior rather than right in the center. In many courtyards, homeowners choose to maintain gardens or create a backyard-like setup.

Off these courtyards, you may find some loggias, or gallery-style rooms that open to the courtyard or garden. These are great spaces that remain covered. This way, you can enjoy comfortable interior furniture and potentially even a fireplace while still breathing in the fresh air.

Red Clay Roof Tiles

These homes are easily recognizable by their emblematic roof tiles. Clay was a prevalent material available to architects during the construction of these homes. Today, many Spanish Colonial-style buildings replicate these tiles even when other materials are available, as their characteristic color and style have immense appeal. Different homes angle their roofs differently, though traditional Spanish Colonial-style homes feature flat or low-pitched roofs.

Wooden Beams

Another prominent characteristic of Spanish Colonial-style houses is that they use many wooden support beams. These beams supported the original homes as they did not have much other physical support infrastructure available. Beyond their practical value, these beams add character and warmth to a house. While wooden beams can still have functionality in today’s construction, architects more commonly use them for aesthetic purposes.

Spanish Colonial-Style Home Maintenance

Spanish Colonial-style homes implement one of the more unique styles of architecture in the home-building world, and while this style comes with significant benefits, there are some downsides. Many of the traditional building materials for these homes are not the best for every climate.

Adobe can swell when exposed to too much water, so it is not a common material outside the arid southwest. This swelling can cause the walls to crack and even fall apart. Additionally, the traditional clay roof tiles can often leak on low-pitched or flat roofs.

While these disadvantages are real, not many Spanish Colonial style homes today continue these exact practices. Instead, architects use modern building practices and technologies so homes can have the same aesthetic as these historic homes with fewer downsides.

A quick guide to Spanish Colonial-style houses can show you the fundamentals of these iconic homes. However, there is so much to love hidden under the surface that you can only discover when you experience this style for yourself. If you are considering implementing this style in your next home, you should consider some Spanish Colonial house plans from Sater Design Collection, Inc. We can help you realize the home of your dreams.

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